Drought in East Africa and the Emergence of the Climate Refugee

Since late 2020, severe droughts in East Africa during the last three rainy seasons have put much of the wildlife and the lives of millions in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia at risk. This has been the worst case of regional drought since 2011, and it is expected to last until mid-2022. In many regions of East Africa, civilians rely heavily on livestock to survive, and in some of these areas around 70% of livestock have died due to lack of water. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has said that around 20 million people will need food assistance in mid-2022 to survive. Currently, the global community is not doing enough to help support these regions. While this is an area of the world that has historically suffered from drought, these recent instances have escalated in severity and frequency as global warming tightens its grip. Climate emissions have been attributed as a major factor as to why the situation in East Africa is so bad. If climate emissions were to worsen, many of these regions would become uninhabitable, leading to millions of uprooted climate refugees.

In 2012, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and current Secretary-General for the UN, António Guterres said that the climate refugees they saw in that region claimed that “they did everything they could to stay at home, but when their last crops failed, their livestock died, they had no option but to move.” This year, the director of Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) stated that “more frequent and longer droughts are becoming the order of the day.” Kenyan mother of two, Zenab Kule agreed, saying that “the only hope I have left is for the rain to come.”

The climate crisis has a paradoxical nature: those that affect the climate the least feel the effects of climate change the most. Conversely, those that affect the climate the most, feel it the least and lack a sense of urgency to address it. More must be done to reverse the effects of climate change because in the next few years we will see the creation of millions of new climate refugees. This will inevitably lead to an economic strain on countries that accept these refugees and to the deaths of the refugees unable to find asylum. The global community must band together to help support those in East Africa who are struggling. While this would save the lives of millions, it is purely a temporary fix for the greater problem, which is climate change itself. Countries are struggling to commit to the ambitious pledges they made to reduce emissions by 45% between 2010 and 2030. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global carbon emissions will be reduced by only 0.5% by 2030.

The global community must come together and realize that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. New efforts must go beyond temporary fixes. While aid should be sent to current victims of climate change, meaningful efforts should be made to reduce the impact of the climate crisis on a long-term basis.